Cheryl Dunye's Stranger Inside
tells the story of a young African-American woman's reckless journey to become reunited with the mother she never knew, set in the harsh realities of a women's correctional facility. Treasure Lee has been in and out of the juvenile detention system as long as she can remember. Now, on her 21st birthday, she is being transferred to the State Facility for Women with one goal on her mind—to fulfill her dream of meeting her mother, a seasoned convict serving a life sentence.
Based on her study of mid-1800s slave narratives recounting the forced separation of family members, Dunye began exploring this contemporary mother-daughter reunion story while she was an artist-in-residence at the Walker in 1999. During a writing workshop at the Minnesota Correctional Facility for Women in Shakopee, inmates collaborated with the filmmaker by sharing their personal stories of life inside the prison. "I wanted to create a slice of life of poor women living in the 21st century," says Dunye. "Unfortunately, many of these women happen to inhabit the prison system, and I decided to focus on what it was like inside this community."
Research for the residency also included interviews with prison staff, reviewing women's prison records and diaries, and the study of various psychological, statistical, and journalistic texts on women in prisons at the Minnesota History Center. A reading of the screenplay was held in the Shakopee prison on June 26, 1999 with the parts read by the inmates from the writing group. . . .
"The collaborative process is crucial in making my story, their story. The power of real people telling about real experiences will ultimately help audiences to better understand who these characters are and how they got to where they are in their lives."—Cheryl Dunye